by Doug Wise
When my wife and I decided to visitLakeridge Winery & Vineyards in Clermont, Florida, we weren’t expecting much in the way of a typical winery experience.
Not that we have much experience, but we have been in wine country in other states. When I think of wine country, I think of gently rolling hills and well-dressed warehouses encompassed by outstretched vineyards that seem to invite you to stop the car and have “a taste” — a mural that does not align with my native Floridian experiences (I was born and raised in St. Petersburg).
Florida brings to mind fishing trips, beaches, palm trees, cows (yes, cows), orange groves, trips to theme parks, and old tourist attractions. However, I do not think of vineyards and wineries.
Apparently, I do not know as much about Florida as I thought.
Upon our drive up the entrance to the Lakeridge Winery compound, we encountered exactly what I was expecting not to encounter: rolling hills, a well-dressed warehouse and, of course, outstretched vineyards. Although the day was hot, I almost got lost in a sentimental feeling of being on my honeymoon again, making several stops at wineries in upstate New York.
In other words, I wasn’t in Florida anymore.
Florida is a top ten wine making state.
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDOA),there are over 40 certified wineries and vineyards in the State of Florida. Where does that leave Florida, among other states, in overall wine production? Number eight. That’s right, in 2012 Florida produced 1.9 million gallons of wine, making it the eighth ranked producer of wine in the United States (Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2013).
In fact, Florida has been making wine since before the Pilgrims arrived.
Florida was the name given by Spanish explorers in recognition of the state’s beautiful fruits and flowers. Among that rich vegetation, native grapevines were discovered on Florida’s east coast. Spanish settlers harvested the wild grapes and, applying the same traditions of their homeland, converted Florida’s wild muscadine into the first American wine. (source: FreshfromFlorida.com a division of the FDOA)
Winery events — bring the kids, too!
The day we visited Lakeridge Winery there was a festival called the 20th Annual Harvest Grape Stomp. So, it was a bit more crowded than usual. However, there was a band, tons of great food, fun activities (like grape stomping), and, of course, wine tasting. My wife and I walked away with a bottle of the Cuvée Noir Reserve (a red) and a bottle of the Sunblush (a white). It was a test of our will power not to purchase more bottles. Most everything we tasted was refined, delicious, and very affordable.
And did I mention we had our three-year-old daughter with us? The festival had lots of great activities for kids too. As far as the winery, my daughter partook in some of the finest grape juice sampling this side of the Mississippi.
Another winery, anyone?
After a few hours at the festival, it was a welcomed-relief to hop in the car and turn on the air conditioning. And as we drove home we heard an ad on the radio, promoting Walt Disney World.
Maybe we can go to Disney next weekend, I thought.
Or maybe another winery.
More info about Lakeridge Winery: www.lakeridgewinery.com